Like previous guest blogger, Amy Key, we too start by apologising for delay in putting pen to paper!Our "holiday of a lifetime" left us absolutely exhausted, but we are so glad we made the decision to make the trip.The absolute highlight for us was spending a wonderful fortnight with Roisin and James and we were so proud and privileged to share just a little part of their year- long adventure.We can assure all of you "blog" readers that they are both in really great form and thoroughly enjoying their travels.Experiencing first hand their regular efforts to source best value internet cafes, we cannot stress enough how much they love to receive messages from friends and family, so please keep them coming.That's the end of quick summary for those who do not want to read the blow by blow account below - we do understand!
DUBAI (2 nights at 4 Parks at Sheraton)
We left Birmingham on 10th Oct for overnight flight to Dubai where we had two night stopover and, despite the heat (38 - 40 degrees), we packed in quite a lot!After checking in to our hotel, we spent Saturday afternoon touring the "old city" in open top tourist bus, and taking short cruise on the creek.We returned to our hotel where we had arranged to meet Dan - Malachy's former work colleague who has been working in Dubai for last couple of years.With him, we visited some of Dubai's top hotels in Jumeirah Beach area and enjoyed some of the most expensive drinks of our life!We returned to our hotel by taxi after 1 a.m. - and the temperature was still in the high 30s.Sunday morning was spent back on the tourist bus, this time touring the "new Dubai" including a trip out onto The Palm with brief stop at the new Atlantis Hotel.We also had taster of a couple of the amazing shopping malls.Mid afternoon we were picked up from our hotel for "Dune bashing safari trip" - just two of us and another couple from London in a Land Cruiser complete with heavy duty roll bars.A truly different tour experience which involved a 50 km drive out of Dubai into the desert where the driver let the tyres down and joined a convoy of about a dozen vehicles for a hair raising hour of roller coaster driving through the sand dunes.As the sun set over the desert, we arrived at our camp where we were to be entertained for the evening - camel rides, bar and bbq/buffet followed by belly dancer.She involved the audience of course, and had several of the men up dancing with her - including Mal (video evidence available for a fee!)And so, our brief view of Dubai came to an end and, with great excitement on Monday morning we boarded our 14 hour flight to see our baby in Melbourne.
MELBOURNE (6 nights at Oaks on Lonsdale apartments)
For the second time in four days, we "lost" a night in the air.We shared the middle aisle with an elderly couple from Stoke on their first flight ever.She was very travel sick - you don't need to know the details!We were therefore very glad to touch down in Melbourne where it was 7a.m. Tuesday.It was a great relief to find that both our mobiles liked Australia, so we were able to communicate with Roisin who was on her way to work.We got to Oaks on Lonsdale, our apartment, at 8.30a.m. to find Rois waiting for us in Reception - Tears and Hugs - FANTASTIC!Got checked in, Rois left for work, we unpacked, got some breakfast, had showers, before crashing out.We just managed to wake up in time to meet Roisin after work at 5pm!Onto James Squires, a nice pub/restaurant on Russell Street to meet up with James and enjoy a re-union dinner (I had kangaroo steak!).We knew in advance that Tuesday night was Quiz Night at the Drunken Poet where they were fed up with second place.Tonight was to be last attempt for "FREJ" (Fiona, Roisin, Eoghan and James)!!So, off to the Drunken Poet (where Rois had been working part-time) to meet bar owner Siobhan.It was great to see Eoghan and Fiona.And so FREJ+MO entered the Quiz ......... and, with the added expense of numerous texts to UK and Ireland, we went on to win by 1 point!! (Lots of arguments as to who got the credit for that 1 point).It was quite a first night - all a bit hazy (jetlag of course), with T-Shirt gifts, toasties, teacakes, snowballs, and far too much wine.I am glad to say, after that mad start, it all settled down to a more sustainable pace:Wednesday 15th
Met James at Oaks, bought picnic lunch and met Rois in Fitzroy Gardens for lunch.Met Eoghan and Fiona for afternoon Yarra River Cruise.Slap up Italian farewell dinner for E&F in LygonStreet followed by nightcap at the Corkman pub.Then dreaded emotional farewells as Eoghan and Fiona head off to New Zealand "Friends Forever - FACT" (they will meet up again end of Nov in Melbourne before E&F leave for journey back to Derry).Thursday 16th
Met James and visited Victoria Market for shopping and lunch.Afternoon at Melbourne Museum, before meeting Rois and then got tram to their house where James had lovely dinner prepared.Visit to Bridie O'Reilly's before tram back to apartmentFriday 17th
Did the tourist bit on the circular city tram, stopping off at the newly developed docks area for lunch.Rois finished her job at Fitzroy Gardens, so met up with her and James there at 3pm and off in "SPUD" our flexi car to the Yarra Valley (an hour north-east of Melbourne) - James driving.Lovely scenic drive with lovely stops for photographs, ice-creams, etc.Dinner in very unusual restaurant called "Bodhi Tree Cafe" - a restaurant built around a tree.Saturday 18th
Pre-booked 12 hour tour of the Great Ocean Road.(Roisin had already done similar tour with Amy and said this one was not to be missed).Sadly, our tour guide Phil, however, could easily have been given a miss but we were determined not to let him spoil the day.We also had trainee Richard, who Phil insisted on calling Robert, and whose driving was somewhat scary!The Great Ocean Road tour was fantastic with lots of stops: Belles Beach; Torquay; Koalas in the wild; Lunch at Apollo Bay; Rainforest Walk; 12 Apostles & London Bridge; etc., etc.Arrived back into Melbourne late evening, night cap at the apartment and early night for all.Sunday 19th
We met up with Roisin and James at St. Patrick's Cathedral for 9.30am Mass.No celebrities this time - Rois saw Russell Brand (now famous in UK!) there last time!It was then back to our apartment for breakfast and preparation for THE ROMP!The Romp was an all day treasure hunt of Melbourne city and after a dodgy start, we got the hang of things and started scoring some points.Needless to say, we did not win, but it was a really fun day and we got to see lots of places we had not previously been to.
We then got tram to Brunswick Street area where James had been working.Some fabulous original and unusual shops and restaurants in this area - would have needed more time to explore.Had dinner in great Malaysian restaurant - really friendly waiter.A really fun day to end our stay in Melbourne.Monday 20th
Early start to pack and make our way to Melbourne airport with Roisin and James, for our 12.20 Tiger flight to Hobart in Tasmania.Roisin lost her mobile en route (she has since traced it to taxi and will be able to reunite when back in Melbourne at end of Nov).
HOBART, TASMANIA (3 nights at St Ives apartments)
The sniffer dogs singled out James on arrival at Hobart.His crime - he had an apple in his backpack!!They waived the high fine thankfully.The airport bus dropped us off at our apartment which was great and a short walk from the waterfront.Monday 20th
After settling into our 2 storey apartment, we set off to explore.We had a few local beers while James and Roisin spent some time at internet cafe finalising their travel plans for east coast and central Australia in Nov.We then found Ball and Chain restaurant which we had read about, and enjoyed one of many good dinners we shared on the trip - wonderful steaks, served by lovely Scottish waitress.Tuesday 21st
We were all ready for a lie-in and a lazy day!We got breakfast packs from Reception at only $3 each.Weather was a bit Irish style today, so between showers we had a walk around the Harbour area, did a bit of Ugg boot shopping for Claire and Niamh, and had nice lunch in the upmarket Henry Jones Art Hotel.We took a taxi to North Hobart in the evening and found lovely little Mexican restaurant for dinner.Wednesday 22nd
Early start for busy all day tour to Port Arthur with our guide, Dave.All our tours were with companies offering small group minibus tours for 8-12 people.These were so much better than the impersonal big coach tours.Port Arthur in Tasmania (formerly Van Diemen's Land) was huge centre where UK convicts were imprisoned.We had several stops en route and Dave gave us lots of information about the area.The sun shone for our afternoon at Port Arthur which, despite its awful history, is now a very pleasant and interesting place to visit.Dave dropped us off at a restaurant called "Fish Frenzie" on the harbour, which he recommended highly.We had fantastic Fish and Chips there and then a couple of drinks on the walk back to the apartment.Thursday 23rd
Roisin had sourced "Louisa's Walk" and booked it for this morning.This was a very unusual walking tour with a husband and wife acting team, re-living the experience of an Irish widow, arrested in London for stealing a loaf to feed her three boys, then sent on a convict ship to Van Diemen's Land for 7 years.It was a harrowing story and a very interesting experience.Today was a national holiday in Hobart so everywhere was closed.We found nice "Waterloo" restaurant for lunch before collecting our bags and getting airport bus to Airport for our evening flight to Sydney.
SYDNEY (5 nights at Star City Apartments)
Sydney was our last Australian stop with Roisin and James, so we splashed out and booked a 5 star apartment in the Star City Complex which included Casino, Theatres, Shops, Restaurants, etc.It was really fantastic - really spacious with everything we needed and more!We arrived late Thursday evening - all shattered!Friday 24th
Time for another lazy morning and huge buffet breakfast before heading off to explore Sydney on foot.Star City is just a short walk from Darling Harbour.From there we walked, via stop off at internet cafe to catch up with message board and upload full cameras, onto Botanic Gardens and the wonderful sight of the Opera House.We did a full guided tour of the Opera House and were so impressed that we went straight to the booking office and got tickets to attend a performance of Vivaldi's 4 Seasons on Monday - our last night in Sydney.We then walked through the historic Rocks area and had dinner in traditional Italian restaurant.We had a window table with view of the Opera House at night.Great day!Saturday 25th
Roisin and I managed a full breakfast this morning before our 7.15a.m. pick up for full day tour to the Blue Mountains.Again, we had a great driver/guide, John, who made this a wonderful packed day out.Our first stop was at Featherdale Wildlife Park (you will have seen the many photos!) where we got up close and personal with koala bears, all sorts of kangaroos, emus, crocodiles, and many other creatures.John commented on Mal's "Cork Jazz Festival" T-Shirt and so a long conversation on Music started. John is a life-long Rory Gallagher fan and is very involved in bands and writing his own music.We have details of his website and have promised to download some of his music.We also exchanged email addresses.We then had stop in park for morning cuppa (served by lady from Cork) and boomerang throwing lessons and on to Katoomba for cliff top walk with amazing views over the valley and blue mountains.We had lovely lunch at Wentworth Golf Club and a chance to chat with other members of the small group - one couple were from Polesworth, about 10 miles from Nuneaton!We then travelled to the visitor centre and took the cable car down into the valley where John took us through temperate tropical rainforest, again with loads of info and history.We took lots of photos of the famous rock formation called "the three sisters".Alas, we had only one sister present to include in the photo!We travelled back to civilisation via the steepest railway in the world - practically vertical really!Thankfully, it was a short journey.On way back to Sydney, we stopped off in Leura where James stocked up at wonderful candy store and we all had milkshakes of various flavours and strange colours.Then on to visit the Olympic village on the outskirts of Sydney before returning into the city by ferry, getting wonderful views of the city, opera house, harbour bridge, etc.
After such a busy day, we decided to stay within Star City for the evening.After queuing at their Chinese restaurant for too long, we decided to blow the budget and go for the posh "Sean's Kitchen" - award winning restaurant - good decision!We all had $10 credit for the casino, so had to have a go, but no luck there.Back to apartment for long chat with Claire on the phone and live Man Utd. game on tv.Sunday 26th
A lazy morning catching up with laundry and postcard writing.Then off to Circular Quay to catch ferry out to Watson Bay and the famous Doyle's seafood restaurant.Luckily, the upmarket restaurant had finished lunch and did not reopen until 6pm for dinner, so we were more than happy to get a mega order from their takeaway on the harbour and eat this in their harbour bar.Excellent Fish and Chips - Mal has to live down eating 6 pieces!Caught last ferry back into Sydney.Mal and I then caught another night ferry back to Star City and James and Roisin walked back.They arrived back with lovely boomerang and stand souvenir as birthday gift for Mal.We had couple of drinks in Irish Pub at Star City with James victorious in Pool challenge with Mal.Back to apartment for poker tournament using "welcome tray" supplies of teabags, coffee and sugar sachets, etc., as currency.My luck was in, which would never happen playing for real cash!James had his Sunday phone chat with home.Monday 27th
After much "will we or won't we?" the decision was made that Mal and James would climb the Harbour Bridge and Roisin and I would visit the Harbour Bridge Museum and climb the Pylon before walking across the bridge.So, off we went by taxi to the bridge climb centre and booked the two tickets on the next "Discovery Climb".Each guided climb is usually done in groups of 10 - 14 people but for some unknown reason there was no one else on the next tour so the two boys had a private tour and were assumed to be "celebrities"!It was a real achievement for James as he had to overcome his fear of heights.We picked the best day of our holiday for the climb but it was very hot at 35 degrees!Roisin and I enjoyed the Pylon climb (just going up a lot of stairs, really) and that was high enough for us.We managed to capture some of the bridge climbers, but alas not our two.We then managed the 2km walk across the bridge but then gave in to the heat and took the train back.We got some banking and internet jobs done before meeting up with the climbers again.Guess what?They were ready for a pint and some food so it was off to the nearby historicAustralia Hotel for beer and pizza.
We then had the excitement of our evening out at Sydney Opera House.We all thoroughly enjoyed it - a wonderful special memory.Tuesday 28th
Sadly, it was time for us to pack up and say goodbye to Australia and for Roisin and James to hit the road again and head north along east coast.Packing ended up with me saying farewell to my new lightweight antler suitcase and swapping it for a failing backpack with no wheels!!!We also gained a number of items including winter coat, boots, 4Kg collection of DVDs, etc.
The moment we had all been dreading came when we left Star City mid afternoon for our evening flight to Bangkok.We knew it would be sad saying our goodbyes at the end of such a wonderful couple of weeks and we both travelled to the airport with heavy hearts.But they are now two thirds way through their year and, although Christmas will be very different this year, it won't be long until we see them again in March.
BANGKOK (2 nights at Pullman King Power Hotel)
We arrived into the oppressive heat of Bangkok in the early hours of Wednesday 29th October.Thankfully, we had pre-booked a private taxi to collect us and take us to our hotel. The hotel was brand new and totally luxurious, which was just what we needed.Wednesday 29th
After lie in and late breakfast, we explored the hotel facilities, bars and restaurants, and massive duty-free shopping mall.We then ventured by taxi into the mayhem traffic of Bangkok, to one of the huge shopping malls.Although only a short distance from the hotel, it was impossible to walk due to the intense heat and humidity.Taxis are dirt cheap.We managed to haggle for purchase of large backpack on wheels to replace the inherited ailing backpack!We also had a Thai snack and spent some time at internet cafe before getting taxi back to hotel.This journey ended up taking well over 1 hour - the whole city was completely gridlocked.We therefore decided to stay put in the hotel for the evening.Their top restaurant was advertising a guest chef from Michelin Star restaurant in France with 4 course dinner at the massive cost of £27 per person.We had £60 credit to use as part of our package, so decided to go for it.When we got to restaurant they explained that Wednesday night was buy one get one free!!! Fantastic meal too.Thursday 30th
Early start today for private tour to the floating markets and the palaces of Bangkok.The floating markets were about an hour's drive from Bangkok and were a real eye opener.But the heat and filthy canals did not make for a very pleasant experience.After a short boat trip around the market, sampling some thai food, we headed back into the city.October is the end of their "rainy" season so we experienced several thunder storms and huge downpours.We then had the weird experience of walking through HOT puddles!Back in the city we visited several royal palaces and museums which are very ornate and opulent.Their King and Royal Family are treated like Gods.
We were glad to get back to our air conditioned room for showers and few hours rest before packing up for journey home.We had dinner at hotel before checking out at 11pm and late taxi to airport for overnight flight back to Birmingham via 4 hour stop at Dubai - a very long night on two very busy flights.Friday 31st
Arrived back in Birmingham at noon, taxi home and bed!Niamh surprised us with visit late afternoon, followed by Claire and then Ashcherrelle.It was lovely to see them all, but I don't think we were the best company!
It took us several days to recover from the holiday and long journey home but we will reflect on this wonderful holiday for years to come.Mal has 5 hours of video memories (we never did learn how to edit) which will be good to look back on.
So the blog is done - pressure off!I can now look forward to guest blogs in February by the Mole family and Niamh and Ed.I am sure they will be a lot more prompt in completing them!!